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Storylines: DJ, O-line updates; defensive surge

STORYLINES-JETS-MILLERLITE

The Giants will look to pick up their second consecutive win when they take on the Jets in Week 8.

After back-to-back matchups against the AFC East in Weeks 5-6, the Giants took on the Commanders this past Sunday at MetLife Stadium. The defense put together a dominant performance as the Giants emerged with a 14-7 victory to bring their record to 2-5.

The Jets, fresh off their bye week, come into this game on a two-game winning streak. After defeating the Broncos in Denver back in Week 5, the Jets took on the Eagles in Week 6 and defeated the reigning NFC Champions, 20-14. The Jets are 3-3 going into Week 8.

Here are five storylines to follow in the Week 8 battle of MetLife Stadium.

1. Will DJ return?

Perhaps the biggest question surrounding the Giants is the potential return of quarterback Daniel Jones. The fifth-year signal-caller has been sidelined the last two weeks with a neck injury suffered at the end of the Week 5 loss in Miami. Jones was able to get on the practice field as a limited participant every day last week, and was once again out there on Wednesday. However, coach Brian Daboll told the media that Jones still has not been cleared for contact.

"Same as he was last week. He'll do stuff at practice, non-contact. Getting better, but same..." Daboll said. "He's feeling better and then when the doctors tell me he's cleared, then cleared."

"Feeling better," Jones added after practice. "Feeling better. Continuing to improve. Just trying to do what the doctors and trainers tell me to do."

If Jones is unable to go, Tyrod Taylor would start his third consecutive game under center. In last week's win over the Commanders, the veteran quarterback completed 62.1 percent of his passes for 279 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, good for a passer rating of 116.9, while adding 25 yards on the ground. The touchdown passes marked the first time the offense reached the end zone since Week 3.

"I feel comfortable in our offense," said Taylor. "I feel comfortable with the playmakers that we have outside. It's up to me, obviously, to get the ball to those guys, so just trying to spread it around as much as possible, and a lot of those guys create plays."

View rare photos from the local rivalry between the Giants and Jets.

2. Latest on the O-line

The Giants used their sixth different starting offensive line combination in last week's win over the Commanders. From left to right, the starting lineup was Justin Pugh, Marcus McKethan, Ben Bredeson, Mark Glowinski and Tyre Philips, who just re-signed with the Giants last week after being signed off the Eagles' practice squad.

Sure enough, the unit put together its strongest performance of the season against a talented Commanders' defensive front. The O-line allowed just seven pressures, although two were sacks, on 36 dropbacks. According to PFF, the Giants finished the week with the NFL's seventh-highest pass-blocking efficiency rating, led in part by Glowinski, who the analytics site has down for just one pressure allowed on 79 pass blocking snaps across the last two games.

"I think he's had two good weeks of practice," Daboll said Monday about the veteran guard. "I thought he played well yesterday. He's done a good job of bouncing back and making the most of his opportunities, and I'm looking forward to him continuing to do that."

The biggest question surrounding the offensive line heading into this weekend's matchup is the health of Andrew Thomas and John Michael Schmitz. Thomas has been out since hurting his hamstring in the season opener, while Schmitz hasn't seen the field since early in the Week 4 loss to the Seahawks when he hurt his shoulder. Neither lineman had been able to get onto the practice field in weeks, but on Wednesday, both Thomas and Schmitz were limited participants at practice.

"I think let him practice and we'll see how it goes by the end of the week," Daboll said about the rookie center. "But I'd say all those guys that have been out for a while are getting better. So, this is kind of their next step here, see how they do at practice."

"First time I've put on a helmet in a while, so that was a good feeling being out there with my teammates again," Thomas said after his first practice back. "More than I've been doing by myself with the trainers and stuff like that. Just continue to stress it and see how it responds."

Additionally, right tackle Evan Neal (ankle) was also limited in Wednesday's practice.

3. Defensive growth

Similar to the O-line, the defense is also coming off its best performance of the season against the Commanders. The unit held Washington to just seven points, 273 total yards of offense and 76 rushing yards, all of which represented the lowest marks of the season for the defense. They also picked up yet another takeaway in the form of a Deonte Banks interception, the first of the rookie's NFL career, while more than doubling their season sack total with six sacks of Sam Howell (they entered the game with five on the year).

"I think Tae has been improving," Daboll said about the first-round pick. "(Cornerback Tre) Hawk(ins) was out there, I thought he did a good job, was physical. (Cornerback Cor'Dale) Flott's doing a good job inside. Those guys worked hard and compete out here at practice, and I thought they did a good job."

After a slow start to the season, the defense has been on a roll the last few weeks. Wink Martindale's unit has held three of their last four opponents to under 300 total yards of offense, which included keeping the Bills' top 5 offense to just 14 points and 297 total yards. The defense has also forced at least one turnover in each of the last three games, with six total takeaways, after not having one in the first four weeks.

The unit's increased production can be attributed to several players on each level of the defense, but the performances of inside linebackers Bobby Okereke and Micah McFadden deserve some recognition. Okereke has racked up double-digit tackles in each of the last four games, with 42 tackles total during that span, to go with six passes defensed, four tackles for loss, an interception and a forced fumble. Meanwhile, McFadden has put together back-to-back dominant outings in the middle of the defense with a total of 12 tackles, 0.5 sacks, an interception and a fumble recovery. McFadden was Pro Football Focus' No. 1 ranked linebacker in Week 7.

"Good communicators," the head coach said about the two inside linebackers. "Kind of tie in the front end and back end together. Bobby plays a lot. Micah plays a lot but he also plays on special teams. We have different roles for Zay (Isaiah Simmons) in there. But two good communicators, they both can run, they're instinctive, they're fast. They've done a good job for us."

4. Roster updates

The Giants made a series of roster moves prior to beginning their week of practice leading up to this weekend's matchup against the Jets. Let's start on the injury front, where running back Eric Gray and offensive tackle Matt Peart were placed on injured reserve. Gray injured his calf during Sunday's win over Washington, while Peart has been sidelined since Week 5 with a shoulder injury. Both players will be out for at least the next four games.

"Yeah, I'd say we discuss with the doctors, (General Manager) Joe (Schoen) and I discuss it, see where their injury is at, see how long we think it could be, could not be. There's a lot of conversations," Daboll said about the decision to put players on IR. "Peart, we thought it would be a little bit of time. Gray, same thing. Some guys you hold out hope that maybe it's a little bit, maybe it's not. Every injury is different, as you know."

The two spots on the roster were both filled by running backs, one of which the Giants are plenty familiar with. Jashaun Corbin was signed off the Carolina Panthers' practice squad, reuniting the young back with his first NFL team. Corbin spent the entire 2022 campaign on the Giants' practice squad and was with the organization during training camp. He signed to Carolina's practice squad after being waived by the Giants on August 29.

The other spot was filled by running back Deon Jackson, who was released by the Cleveland Browns on Monday. Jackson's career totals include 94 carries for 281 yards and two touchdowns to go with 35 receptions for 223 yards and an additional score. Since making his NFL debut in 2021, Jackson has played 28 games with three starts for the Indianapolis Colts and Browns.

The Giants also made two veteran additions to the practice squad this week. On Monday, the team signed former All-Pro returner Gunner Olszewski, who has returned 75 career punts for 897 yards (12.0 avg.), including a 70-yard touchdown. Olszewski was released by the Pittsburgh Steelers on Friday after signing with them as a free agent in 2022. He spent his first three seasons with the New England Patriots, which included his 2020 All-Pro campaign where he led the NFL and set a Patriots franchise record with his 17.3 yards per punt return.

The other practice squad signing was outside linebacker Justin Hollins, who was released by the Packers on Saturday. Hollins has played 59 games with seven starts for the Denver Broncos, Los Angeles Rams and Packers over the last five seasons, where he totaled 9.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. He was also a member of the Rams' Super Bowl LVI-winning team.

5. Scouting the Jets

Following Aaron Rodgers' Achilles injury, Zach Wilson has started the last five games for the Jets. The third-year quarterback has completed 60.4 percent of his passes for 1,097 yards, four touchdowns and five interceptions on the season, earning a 73.4 passer rating, while adding 98 yards on 19 carries (5.2 avg.). Wilson has led the Jets to a 3-3 record heading into Week 8 (the Jets had their bye in Week 7). The offense ranks 22nd in points and 30th in yards this season.

The Jets' leading rusher is Breece Hall. The talented running back, less than one year removed from a torn ACL, has rushed 66 times for 426 yards, good for an impressive average of 6.5 yards per carry, and two touchdowns while catching 13 passes for another 113 yards. After the Jets limited his touches to start the season, Hall no longer has any restrictions. He ran for 177 yards and a touchdown on just 22 carries (8.0 avg.) against the Broncos in Week 5.

"He's a big back that runs really fast," Daboll said about the Jets running back. "If he gets out in the open, he can make a guy miss, he can slash and one-cut. A couple runs he had backed up in the first game of the year, then he had a long one against Kansas City, 43-yarder. You've got to put a lot of hats to the ball on him. He's a big back, but he's fast, too, and he can take it a long way. Good player."

With Rodgers injured, the Jets' passing game has taken a bit of a hit. Garrett Wilson, last year's Offensive Rookie of the Year, leads the team with 32 receptions for 369 yards and two touchdowns. Tight end Tyler Conklin ranks second with 20 receptions for 227 yards, while veteran wide receiver Allen Lazard has 14 receptions for 210 yards and a score.

The strength of the Jets undoubtedly rests on the defense, which features talented players on every level. The unit currently ranks third in the league with 13 turnovers, and that's with their bye week having already taken place. 2022 All-Pro lineman Quinnen Williams leads the group up front, but fellow linemen Quinton Jefferson (three) and Bryce Huff (two and a half) actually lead the team in sacks. Meanwhile, the Jets' boast a strong group of linebackers, including C.J. Mosley, Quincy Williams and Jermaine Johnson II.

The Jets have one of the league's top cornerback duos in Sauce Gardner and D.J. Reed. Gardner, fresh off last year's Defensive Rookie of the Year campaign, has three pass breakups and a forced fumble in five games this year. Both Gardner and Reed are currently still working their way through the concussion protocol. Their status for Sunday's game is unclear.

"I just think (Jets Head) Coach (Robert) Saleh does a great job," said Daboll. "His defenses are always well coached. Competed against him when he was in San Francisco and I was in Buffalo. I think the world of him as a guy. He's got a defense that plays with high energy, specific type of guy that plays extremely hard. They rotate their front four like hockey shifts. They've got two really good corners. I'd say they kind of do what they do on early downs, and they do it very, very well and then they give you some issues schematically in some passing situations."

View photos of every move made by the Giants during the 2023 cycle.